What is gelato?

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What is gelato?

For those of you who have written to me asking what gelato is, I promise you, you already know the answer, sort of! Gelato is Italian for ice-cream – but if you’ve ever had ‘the real thing’, you know that there is something about gelato that sets it apart from other ice-creams. The flavour is quite explosive – if the gelato is made with, say, strawberries, you taste the strawberries. There is a reason for this – several reasons in fact, and these are what make gelato different from ice-cream.

What’s the difference between gelato and ice-cream? Isn’t it the same thing?

There is a clue in first understanding what ‘ice-cream’ is. Think about it. When we use word and terms on an everyday basis, we start forgetting their core meanings. ‘Ice’ and ‘cream’. Properly speaking, in Foodie Heaven and Food Police Hell, ice-cream is frozen cream with added sugar, fruit and flavourings. I can tell you, speaking from personal experience, that ‘ice-cream’ reduced to those basic components is most extraordinarily delicious, but quite different from proper Italian gelato.

Hardly any commercial ice-cream is made like this, although if I were a cardiologist or a pharmaceutical company with a best-selling statin, I would start a natural, wholesome ice-cream company based on these simple ingredients in the assurance of guaranteed future revenue in both fields. The ice-cream cannot possible fail to sell, and your customers will need bypasses for years to come. Oh dear – I digressed….

The point I started making before my nefarious business instincts intruded is this: Ice-cream an inherently creamy, dare I say it, fatty product. In fact you must have a certain quantity of fat in your ice-cream or you cannot legally market and sell it as ‘ice-cream’. The better ice-creams are usually made with a custard base, to which you add milk or cream is added, along with flavourings. Then the mixture is churned, and air is whipped in. The cheapest versions are made with vegetable fat and a LOT of air is whipped in – this fluffs out the mixture and leads you to believe you are getting loads of the stuff. Considering the fake colourants and flavourings they use, for once a vendor may be doing the customer a favour.

So how is gelato different?

Gelato has a lower fat content than ice-cream. This makes a difference to the flavour – fat, especially fake fat, coats your tongue and masks intensity of the chocolate, strawberry or whatever other flavour you have added. Because gelato is lower in fat, the flavour pops that much more. And gelato has less air whipped into it – lots of air also dilutes flavour. Added to that gelato is served at a slightly lower temperature than ice-cream (because when it’s very cold, it’s harder to scoop because it has less fat). Your taste buds register flavour faster when they aren’t being numbed by cold. These are the factors make gelato so delicious and gives it that certain something. Remember though that gelato does not last well, and it should be eaten within a few days after it is made or it will have lost its bloom.

How do you make gelato?

Now that you know what gelato is, perhaps you are asking ‘how do you make gelato?’ Milk, cream, sugar and flavourings….Quality ingredients are very important. Some gelati are based on milk and cream alone (they are called ‘white base gelati’) and others are based on custard (‘yellow base’ gelati). Yes, of course you can whip up a batch at home with an ice-cream maker and a good recipe, but if you have felt the lure of gelato and want to make a career of being a gelataio (the proper term for a gelato maker) who makes gelato artigianale (artisan gelato), you can attend the Gelato University. Uh huh, yep, you heard me. There is a gelato university, and I’ve posted a video of one of their instructors who teaches the secrets of making a great gelato. Her name is Donata, and I’m considering applying for her adopt me……

How to ask for gelato in Italian?

First of all, remember that one is ‘un gelato’, and the plural of gelato is ‘gelati’. If you want gelato in a cone, say ‘vorrei un gelato al cono’. If you want it in a cup, say ‘vorrei un gelato alla coppa’. ‘Scoops’ are ‘gusti (literally flavours’). Listen to an audio conversation with a script here, and learn how to ask for gelato in Italian.

How many gelato flavours are there, and how do you say them in Italian?

There are an infinite amount of gelato flavours. The most popular include vaniglia, fragola, cioccolato, liquirizia, stracciatella, fior di latte, and pistacchio. The links will take you to entries in the Howdoyousaythatword.com database with audio.

Italy has other frozen treats… What are they called?

Gelato is not the only frozen treat Italy has to offer. Check out my entries for sorbetto, granita, semifreddo, gelato affogato, and spumone.

Some Italian words related to gelato

A gelato shop is called a gelateria, and a gelato-maker is a gelataio. Gelato artigianale is specialist, hand-crafted gelato.

Did you know?

It isn’t unusual for Italians in some parts of Italy, especially the South, to eat a scoop of gelato for breakfast! Italian generally have coffee and something sweet for breakfast. Who can argue with the eating habits of such beautiful people?

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About the Author

Marie-Ora is obsessed with pronunciation, languages, food, wine, cooking, 4Foots. and chocolate. When she isn't working, she enjoys snacking, sipping on wine, reading and napping, and is currently researching methods to do all 4 simultaneously. Although Marie-Ora has absolutely no vices, she is easily provoked by mis-pronunciations, bad coffee, and unwarranted hype.

2 Comments

  1. frik  September 6, 2011

    Now I know what gelato is ;-)

    (reply)
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